Last weekend, I was forced to live an experience I wish to never repeat EVER again. It is an experience that has now carved deep into my soul the conviction that Air Canada is amongst the worst airlines from a first world country. It is a long and painful story, yet I have been told it’s a good one to hear, so get ready for a very wordy post.
Between June 17th and June 22nd, I was in Melville, New York, to be trained on an animation and design program used at my job. It was well worth it since this specific program had a tendency of making me feel stupid at my own job. Now, I won’t feel so pathetically slow when I’m asked to design or animate something. Hooray! The training week went well, but it was the departure that frustrated me to the point of tears.
Friday June 22nd
I arrive at Laguardia Airport, check in my luggage, take a seat in the lounge-waiting area. My plane doesn’t take off until 4:30pm, so I have plenty of time to read and watch stuff on my laptop until the plane gets here. I might even make it in time for Amélie et les singes bleus and Ariane Moffatt, who are playing a free concert at Francofête. Plus, I’ll also get enough sleep to get to work the next day (Saturday) for the kids show I’m teching on.
One of the earlier flights gets cancelled. That’s weird, but at least it’s not mine. Sit tight, everything is going to be okay.
More flights are getting cancelled. Okay, this is weird, but mine isn’t. It’s just delayed… until 6pm. I’ll miss Amélie et les singes bleus, but at least I’ll still get there in time for Ariane Moffatt!
More and more flight’s are being delayed. What’s going on?
It’s official: they’re cancelling flights one by one every 30 minutes. Ugh! Now mine is only delayed until 6:45pm. Come on! Don’t cancel my flight! A migraine is starting to settle in.
A massive lineup of passengers with cancelled flights are filed one by one in front of the Air Canada travel agents desk. They are hoping to book a flight for the next day as quickly as possible to get out. It looks like at least a 1.5 hour wait. Yikes! I am now looking after a nice canadian woman’s heavy carry on while she’s in line. She told me that if my plane gets cancelled that I can just bring her bags to her then.
My flight is now delayed until 7pm. A bunch of flights around mine are being cancelled. This doesn’t look good for me.
It’s official: my flight is now cancelled! Air Canada makes an announcement that those who recently had cancelled flights shouldn’t even bother waiting in line. They should call a 1-800 number and book with an agent over the phone. This isn’t good! I immediately bring the nice lady’s luggage to her. She’s about 4 people away from talking to an agent. As a thank you, she tells me to cut in with her; she feels bad for me. I thank her profusely! It may not have been the most honest thing, but in times of great frustration, I’ll take what I can get. My brain has now gone into focussed mode. Step 1: Tell my boss. I turn on my phone to call my supervisors to let them know what’s happened. Phone call with scheduling supervisor goes as follows:
Me: Hi (name)!
Super: Hi PenRei! How are you? (she’s clearly puzzled since why would I be calling her on a Friday evening.)
Me: I’ve been better. My flight back to Toronto has just been cancelled and I’m stranded in New York.
Super: Oh no that’s terrible. Thanks for letting me know.
(Moment of silence, I’m guessing she still doesn’t entirely know why I’m calling her.)
Me: Uh, (name), I am suppose to work the kid’s show tomorrow at Francofête.
Super: … OH SHIT!
Super: Okay, don’t worry PenRei. I’ll find someone to replace you. Just take care of yourself.
Me: Um… also, I have the dvd’s with all of the media. So the team will either have to use the P2 player or go through the back ups.
Super: Okay, I’ll make this work. Thanks for letting me know. Don’t worry about any of it. I’ll figure it all out.
(We say goodbye and I am glad to have such a nice and sympathetic scheduling supervisor.)
I call the technical director of the show and leave him a voicemail with what’s going on. I then proceed to call my father, who is expecting a message when I’m back in Canada, and text the friends I am meeting up with at the concert to let them know that I won’t be able to make it.
Step 1 accomplished!
Step 2: Book my flight. I get to a travel agent. They are clearly swamped with frustrated and angry customers, so I’m doing my best to stay calm and carry on. While she’s helping me, she’s also talking to someone on the phone and directing an agent to help a woman in a wheelchair. Such little dialogue is exchanged between us that at one point I’m wondering if she’s helping me at all. I decide to not be an impatient customer and trust that she’s doing her job. She tells me the earliest flight she can get me on is at 6:30pm the next day. With no better option, I take it. She makes the changes, hands me the booking information and explains that they will be booking larger planes on Saturday, so I could show up early and maybe get squeezed into an earlier flight. I thank her. Step 2 accomplished!
Lastly, Air Canada isn’t providing anyone with any accommodation information. I’m worried since Step 3 is finding a hotel room. It looks like I’m on my own. Frustrated by their lack of customer service, I leave.
Both the nice lady and I have our flights for the next day. Now for Step 3: Find a hotel room for the night. The nice lady continues her kindness and allows me to use her laptop (with internet access) to find and book a hotel. I go to Hotels.com and scour the website for hotels nearby. Everything is fully booked! Why am I not surprised? There are probably close to 1,000 people now stranded in New York (Air Canada flights from JFK have also been cancelled). There is an option for me to return to Long Island, but the taxi ride is so long and expensive that I’d rather find something nearby. I look for hotels in Manhattan, crossing my fingers that there will be at least one. Lucky for me, there is one hotel who’s price range fits within my work’s requirements (140$ a night) and there are only 2 rooms left. I book it without hesitation. My confirmation is sent to my email and everything looks good. The hotel is even listed as having free WiFi.
Necessary Bonus! The nice lady and I separate, wishing each other good luck. Step 4: Collect my suitcase from baggage claim.
I’m waiting at baggage claim for my suitcase. As soon as I’ll get it, I’ll be off and heading to my hotel. My migraine has now accelerated to full-pain mode and all I can think about is getting some food in my system and then lying down on a bed with all the lights turned off. Come on suitcase, show your face!
The same 20 suitcases are just repeatedly spinning around in a circle. We’re about 60 people all wondering what’s going on. Where is our luggage? The conveyor belt is only about 2/3rd full. A man goes over to an airport employee and asks why there’s no new luggage. The employee says that the conveyor belt is full (not true) and they are waiting for the luggage to be claimed before putting anything new on. Um, thanks for telling us earlier! (sigh) The same man, who I found out to be Canadian (yes, Canadians are nice), puts a smile on his face and starts taking suitcases off one by one and putting them into a pile in the middle. Two others help out! I want help, but the pain in my head is so intense that I can barely stand up straight. Eventually, new suitcases begin to appear and mine finally shows up. Step 4: accomplished! Step 5: Get my ass over to my hotel.
There is a long lineup outside for a taxicab. What else can I do but take a spot in line and wait for my turn! I plant myself behind someone, massaging my temples to help alleviate some of the agony. My stomach is starting to eat itself, adding to the overall physical pain I am dealing with.
There are only 5 people in front of me. Awesome! We’re almost there. I distract myself by watching others walk out of the airport and find a place in line. I spot the nice lady from before and flag her down. She is also going to a hotel in Manhattan, so I tell her to join me in the line and split a cab. This time she is thanking me and comments that we make a good team. I am happy to have someone to share this experience with. I push back my migraine to keep a positive attitude about the situation like her. Soon, it’s our turn and we jump in a cab. During the ride, we find out that her hotel is only 5 blocks from mine. I tell her not to worry about the cab fare since my work will reimburse me and we’re so close to each other anyway. She thanks me again for the free cab ride. Before being dropped off, she extends an invitation for me to join her mother (who is still at JFK waiting for her luggage) and her for dinner. I thank her, but I am so hungry that I can’t wait another hour to eat. She says she understands and we part ways.
I get to my hotel. It’s the Pennsylvania Hotel near Times Square. There’s a diner called Lindy’s right downstairs and I note it as a place to grab some diner. I check in and make my way up to my room, incredibly happy to finally lie down. Unfortunately, the hotel room is HORRIBLE! To anyone venturing to Manhattan, DO NOT STAY IN THE PENNSYLVANIA HOTEL!!!! If I knew this would have been the state of the room, I might have taken my chances sleeping at the airport.
The carpet was dirty and made me afraid to take off my shoes.
The washrooms were cleaner at the airport than at the hotel.
The bedsheets had stains on them.
The hotel smelled like it wasn’t aired out in a decade; there was an unpleasant mix of cigarettes, dust, alcohol, bleach, and old carpet.
On top of that, there was no WiFi as promised. I asked the hotel and they said that there was none in the hotel rooms, only in the lobby, and you had to pay 10$ to get access. I showed them my booking clearly specifying “free WiFi” the clerk simply said “what do you want me to say? It’s not true.” Uh, how about the minimum customer service you could offer? Such as giving me at least free WiFi in the lobby for the evening!
Unable to stall my hunger, I went to the dinner. I was completely unprepared for the prices on the menu. The only thing I could afford within my work per-diems was a chicken sandwich and frozen vegetables on the side. Safe to say, not particularly appetizing and not worth the 22$ I gave them.
I’m back in my room with my take out container. I swallow an Advil and wait for its effects to make their way to my neck and brain while very slowly eating (I occasionally get severe nausea if my migraine is really bad). Now that I have a flight for the next day, a roof over my head, and some food in my stomach, my head steps out of ubber-focussed mode and for the first time in hours, I let everything sink in. Feeling incredibly lonely, after being disconnected from all of my friends and family in Canada for a week, I call my dad and ask him to call me through the hotel phone number so we can talk. He does and after a few tears and telling him everything that has happened, I finally begin to feel better.
After talking to my dad and watching an episode of The X-Files. I decide it’s time to go to bed. Now I’m not too sure what to do. The bed is so disgusting that I’m worried I might get crabs (that’s how bad it was), but the air conditioner (which I can’t control) is pushing too much cold air. I decide to sleep in my clothes underneath one blanket. Before falling asleep, I pray that there are no bed bugs. I don’t need more stress after this.
Saturday June 23rd
I wake up to the sounds of some very loud Portuguese tourists next to me. Impossible to go back to sleep. I watch another episode of X-Files on my laptop while eating the other half of my sandwich from the previous night.
I can’t stay in my room for much longer. The smell and the grossness is getting to me. I’d like to go to the Metropolitan Museum, but without internet, I have no idea where it is or when they open. Also, I have to check out at noon, most likely not giving me a lot of time. I opt for just walking around Times Square. In the process, I stop by Starbucks and buy some breakfast (the only place that will fit within my per-diems). I walk, browse through stores, and try to just keep a positive attitude despite my single desire to go home.
The streets of Manhattan are getting too crowded for my taste, so I decide that it’s time for me to check out. I do so and go outside to catch a cab. I don’t have any American money in small bills, so I decide to call a cab myself and not ask for help from the bell boy. As my arm stretches up in the air at an upcoming cab, the bell boy jumps in front of me and does the same. I don’t understand what’s going on. Is he hailing a cab for somebody else? Turns out he was hailing it for me… even though I had already done that for myself. He opens the door for me and I get in. I close the door and then he yells at me “What about my tip?” I’m shocked! I never asked for his help, and all he did was hail a cab I already had. I just give him an expression saying “why would I tip you if I didn’t even want your help?”. He decides to yell at me some more through the car window and I ask the taxi driver to get me to LaGuardia.
I get to the airport and am thankful that I didn’t have a driver who wanted to talk to me. That last scene with the bellboy was just enough to set me back in my lonely mood from the previous night. I admit, I cried a bit in the cab. I walk into the Air Canada check-in station and the first nice thing happens to me all day.
I don’t want to check-in at the kiosks in the hopes of getting an earlier flight, but I couldn’t find the regular check-in counter, just the baggage line. I walk up to the woman at the business class check-in since she has no one in line and ask her where I’m suppose to go. She points to the baggage check-in counter. I sigh and am about to turn around, but she stops me and says “I can ring you through here, I don’t have anyone in line”. I am dumbfounded! Is this even real? She asks to see my passport. It is real! Friendly service from Air Canada? I decide not to question it too much and just go with it. She rings me through and says that there are seats available on the 3:30pm flight. I accept without hesitation. She also says that she can check my suitcase right there. She hands me my boarding pass and I thank her profusely. There may have even been a tear of joy.
I am back in the waiting-lounge area. Boarding for my flight starts at 2:55pm and takeoff is 3:30pm. Renewed with hope, I am convinced that today is the day that I am going. I also know that if I have to repeat this nightmare again, I might just breakdown in the airport. But no, I choose to try and stay positive! If all goes well, I’ll be back in my apartment around 6pm and will make it to Running Man’s (besty Douggy Fresh’s boyfriend) birthday party.
A later flight is delayed. Worry begins to sink in. No! I try to be positive. I will not give up hope!
An airplane docks in gate 7. My flight is departing from gate 7. That must be the plane! HOORAY! I’m going home! I continue to read my book while keeping my ears open for any announcements.
They’ve begun boarding the plane. This is happening! This is actually happening!
Everyone has boarded the plane. It’s just a matter of minutes before we take off. I can already breathe the fresh Canadian Air and see all the trees and nature again. (That’s right, I was so deprived of it that TORONTO felt like nature). I jumpstart my return to Canada by watching a NFB documentary called Cry of the Wild about wolves.
We still haven’t taken off. What’s going on?
Oh no! They’re going to ask us to get off the plane and cancel the flight. Please don’t let it be! Please don’t let it be! Please don’t let it be!
The captain over the intercom: “Sorry to have kept you waiting folks. We initially didn’t have any staff to put the luggage on the plane, so we were just waiting on that. Soon we’ll be closing the cargo doors and we should be ready for takeoff any minute.”
Seriously! THAT was the hold up! For crying out loud, I think most of the people on this plane would have gone out themselves to put their luggage on the plane. Air Canada, you’re disorganized ways are bringing me nothing but GRIEF!
The captain: “Thank you for waiting folks. We have now closed the cargo doors and are waiting for our turn to takeoff. It shouldn’t be much longer.”
By that do you mean 10 minutes? 15 minutes? I can handle 15 minutes.
I can’t take it anymore! What’s the holdup! Please just get me home!!!!!!
The plane is moving. Wait, the plane is moving? Yes, it is! The plane is MOVING! YES! Finally, FINALLY I can go home. There’s no way they would cancel the plane now. Shh, no, don’t say that. You’ll jinx it! Don’t say anything until you are past customs in Canada. (Can you see the slow degradation of my sanity by now?). The plane takes off. Now it feels real.
We land in Canada. Oh sweet Canadian soil! You are amazing and I love you so much. I’m soooo sorry that I left you for so long!
I pass customs. Now I really am in Canada. There’s nothing that they can do make me go back to LaGuardia. Oh LaGuardia and Air Canada, how I despise you completely!
I’m home! I’M REALLY HOME! My tiny bachelor apartment has never looked so wonderful. My neighbourhood, with a strange mix of immigrant families and drug-dealers, has never looked so welcoming. The trees outside have never been greener. Everything is WONDERFUL! I proceed to spend my evening doing my laundry (and putting everything in the dryer in case of bed bugs), buying some well-deserved sushi for dinner, skyping with my family, and reading. I told Running Man that I couldn’t make it to his birthday party. If I really wanted to, I might have made it for 10pm. I found out the next day that the party had pretty much winded down by then.
I slip under the covers of my bed and prepare for sleep. Before closing my eyes, I pray with all the energy I have left that I will not wake up tomorrow morning back in that horrible hotel room. If this whole day was just a dream, I would breakdown in that hotel right then and there.
Sunday June 24th
I wake up. I’m still in my apartment! Now it feels over.
And there you have it! 3,517 words later, the story is over. Congratulations to you if you made it to the end. This must be the longest post I’ve written so far. Despite my desperate need to leave the states by the end, I’m excited to return and visit my dear friend Gretchen in Washing DC and West Falls Church. I’ll also be taking Porter this time, an airline I have taken often in the last year and always had a great experience with. I am now convinced to use Porter whenever possible and avoid Air Canada at all costs.